I awakened at 6:00 this morning and sat up. I set my Insight Timer for 30 minutes and began my manta.
As a child attending primary school in Sturgis, South Dakota, my friends and I would crawl under our desks during “nuclear disaster drills.” Occasionally the curfew siren would sound the city-wide disaster drill. All of the schools would release the children who would walk to meet their parents leaving their jobs in mid-day to come home. I guess they wanted us to die together as a family when the “bomb” hit.
The assassination of President Kennedy when I was in Jr. High was the beginning of a succession of global events that affected me powerfully. These events included the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the ’68 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the trial of the Chicago Seven that followed. The TV screen was filled with protests and riots in 125 cities in the spring of 1968. It looked like America was going up in flames. At Denver University I walked with other freshmen in a campus protest of the Vietnam War. Some of the more radical students staged a sit-in at the administrative buildings and called it Woodstock for the musical revolution we were all listening to. My high school friends were being drafted and sent off to Vietnam. I got stoned.
The Kent State massacre in 1970 was perhaps the most defining event of my college years. Unarmed students peacefully protesting the Vietnam War were gunned down by the National Guard under orders from President Nixon. If anything turned my sense of the world upside down it was this. These soldiers, whose job it was to protect me as a citizen of the United States, shot and killed my unarmed fellow college students because they were protesting the government’s policy of the War in Vietnam. The impressionable mind of a young woman from a small town in South Dakota was being formed.
I transferred from DU to Northern Illinois University outside of Chicago to get an education degree. The woman who was registering me for my classes mentioned there was an opening in an experimental education program. The word “experimental” caught my ear and I signed up. I was one of twenty students trained in the Summerhill Progressive Education Method by a group of politically radical professors. This small faction of the Department of Education was later dismissed for teaching revolutionary ideas and encouraging the use of psychedelics with their students. I recall attending a “meet and greet” for new students at the home of the head of the department. I arrived to find my professors sitting around a hookah in the middle of the coffee table in the living room. As a student teacher of fourth graders in a public elementary school in DeKalb, my cooperating-teacher, a creative and compassionate woman in her mid-forties, sat with me on the back steps of the school and offered me a hit from her joint during recess.
My boyfriend was a case worker in the stark cement-block high-rises known as Cabrini Green, the most infamous of the experimental government housing projects for African-Americans who were being displaced from their homes as Chicago practiced “urban renewal.” In 1968, following the assassination of Dr. King, constant gunfire from snipers positioned on the upper floors of Cabrini-Green caused many casualties. I went with Jim on a “field day” to visit his clients at the projects. The people I met and the living conditions I saw added another layer to my developing perception of the “real world” in America.
I graduated from NIU with a B.S. in Education and a revolutionized world view. I moved to Chicago and took a job with Red Top Cab. For three months I drove a taxi through the neighborhoods of Chicago during the summer of 1972. I was one of the few women cab drivers in the city and with my long straight hair and wire-rim glasses I looked about fourteen driving my fares through neighborhoods with snipers on the roofs. It still stands as my most empowering job.
In the spring of 1974 I took a 30 day course in Transcendental Meditation sponsored by the Public Library in Alton, Illinois. I had recently moved to Alton, a bedroom community of St. Louis, following a year of teaching in Denver. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had, in March of 1973, addressed the legislature of the State of Illinois and they had passed a resolution in support of the use of Maharishi’s Science of Creative Intelligence in Illinois public schools. I was a young, idealistic public school teacher thinking I could make a difference in the lives of these inner-city kids.
Somehow it all fits together…anti-establishment protests, psychoactive drugs, progressive education, Beatles music and the Maharishi’s meditation teachings. My college years, 1968-1972, were central to a vast cultural shift in America. My experiences caused an upheaval of my childhood beliefs about authority figures and the world as I knew it. These are some of the events that have shaped my life.